Supreme Court Rules on Second Amendment

“I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled to let us keep our guns.”

That was a comment from a friend and online reader of this column, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case McDonald v. Chicago.

I responded to him that I didn’t think the ruling had much to do with us and our shotguns.

Nevertheless, some people are cheering the Supreme Court decision, while others are trying to find some reason to think that there may still be some room for some common sense restrictions on firearms, particularly handguns.

The Chicago case is a follow-up to an earlier case, District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Court ruled, in 2008, that the Second Amendment secures for individuals the right to keep and bear arms, including handguns, for the purpose of self-defense. The ruling nullified D.C. laws that made possession of unregistered firearms a crime, and made registration of handguns illegal. A key point in that case is that the District of Columbia is under Federal jurisdiction.

The day after the Heller decision, petitioners, including one Otis McDonald, filed suit in Federal court challenging Chicago (and the suburb of Oak Park) handgun laws similar to the D.C. laws struck down in the Heller decision. The key contention in the suit is that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms should apply to states through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

The Federal District Court (Northern District of Illinois) and Appeals Court ruled against McDonald on the basis that in previous cases the Supreme Court had not incorporated the Second Amendment against the states, and the question of whether the 14th Amendment applied was an issue that could be decided only by the Supreme Court.

The crux of the McDonald case revolves around balances of state and federal power and whether state and local governments can enact laws to address crime problems in large urban areas.

The Court ruled, last week, in an opinion by Justice Alito, that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause incorporates the Second Amendment rights recognized in the Heller case. Justice Thomas wrote a separate opinion coming to the same conclusion under another provision of the 14th Amendment.

While the Court’s decision affirmed the Second Amendment’s right for individuals to keep and bear arms, the decision did not directly strike down the Chicago laws. Instead, it remanded the case back to the Seventh Circuit to resolve conflicts between certain Chicago gun restrictions and the Second Amendment.

While the McDonald decision affirmed individual Second Amendment rights, it did little to resolve issues as to what local jurisdictions can do to address the problems of gun violence. The opinion affirmed that certain firearms restrictions mentioned in the Heller case, such as those prohibiting possession of firearms by felons or mentally ill persons, or laws forbidding carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms, are all permissible.

Further, the Chicago Tribune reported that the City of Chicago’s top attorney, Mara Georges, believes that the McDonald ruling doesn’t mean that the City can’t restrict the number of handguns kept in the home, or keep a current ban on firearms dealers within Chicago’s city limits. The City plans to draft new regulations to require registration of handguns, plus require gun owners to undergo training and submit to a criminal background check and obtain liability insurance.

Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst for Politics Daily, comments, “The ruling all but assures a great deal of litigation over the scope of the McDonald ruling. We will now see a wave of lawsuits by gun rights advocates seeking to invalidate gun control measures across the country…At the same time, state lawmakers …are likely to struggle” over questions of whether restrictions fall under the scope of the Second Amendment or longstanding regulatory measures that Justice Alito expressly endorsed.

In summary, the court decisions did, in fact, affirm individual rights to keep and bear arms, but it still allows state and local governments to put in some regulations.

The bottom line is that we will continue to argue and litigate.